INNISFAIL – After facing repeated hostile attacks since last October from a few loud, angry and determined citizens over COVID restrictions, patience finally broke with the town’s new council.
The town recently received two letters from angry citizens; both demanding pressure be put on the province to end COVID restrictions. Both were made public and part of council’s agenda package for the Jan. 10 regular meeting.
“I am finding letters increasingly difficult to deal with,” said Coun. Cindy Messaros.
The first-term councillor said she spent a “long time” over the previous weekend trying to figure out how to articulate her feelings for one email letter authored by an Innisfailian who attempted to address inclusiveness and discrimination. However, the attempt was a direct attack on both events, and it not only offended Messaros but other councillors as well.
“About 18 months ago, our previous council went to great lengths to welcome a rally into our town, made up largely of professional protestors from out of our local area. We the taxpayers of Innisfail, I believe, picked up the tab for security at this event, as this organization has a long history of violence,” said the email. “More recently, council again very enthusiastically and publicly endorsed a pride event, which a percentage of our population found offensive. But again, council was being inclusive.”
Messaros, in her first major statement on council since being elected last October, said she believed there are a “number of citizens” in the community “perpetuating false and misleading information” related to council decisions, including council’s endorsement earlier in the meeting on Mayor Jean Barclay’s motion to formalize the town’s position on COVID restrictions.
“Additionally, I am disturbed by the use of the word discrimination, and the misunderstanding of the principles and concepts of equality, diversity and inclusion as they relate to human rights protections,” said Messaros, who spoke of her professional life working with the vulnerable, and its mandate of creating justice by providing opportunity.
“I see what discrimination, oppression and prejudice looks like every day.”
Coun. Janice Wing, who noted she was not part of the decision-making process as an elected member of council at the time of the anti-racism rally and Pride events, bluntly commented the rally was not made up of “largely out-of-town professional protesters.
“It was attended by a large number of caring and concerned members of the community who wanted to support a local Innisfail woman who organized the event out of concern and caring for her neighbours – our neighbours – for the concerns they were having,” said Wing.
“As for Pride I am really offended by the comments but the perspective as well. With this event, just like others, if you don’t like it, don’t go.”
Coun. Dale Dunham began his response by stating he also spent a considerable time with the correspondence over the past weekend. However, he stopped for several seconds to regain his composure.
Dunham continued to add that on June 25 of last year he spearheaded the town’s first-ever Pride event with support from several local citizens. He then apologized for his emotion but continued on. He added the Pride event was a transitional time for the local LGBTQ community and the Town of Innisfail.
“For the first time Innisfail and the area LGBTQ community and its allies had the opportunity to celebrate who we are in the community where we live. Transphobia, homophobia, discrimination based on personal sexual orientation or gender identity exists everywhere. It’s not exclusive to smaller towns and rural communities,” said Dunham.
“My experiences and life here have shown me that Innisfail is not a homophobic town. We have a considerable portion of the population that are our allies. Everyone has the right to live their truth, their authentic life and they have the right to live free of fear of violence and discrimination.”
Coun. Jason Heistad said he and his family attended both events. He considers himself an activist and an ally. Heistad said he learned a great deal from both events.
“When you are an activist it’s about respect as well. What I saw and what I learned as an ally, is to become a better ally,” said Heistad. “There was lots of grandparents and different relatives who were attending the events with young people from our community and making it is a safe place to live, and hopefully in the future we have more events such as Pride.”
In closing the emotional discussion, Mayor Barclay said the email letter to council was “not factual” in its depiction of the anti-racism rally. She also condemned the letter’s comment that the Pride event was “divisive”.
“Of course, nothing could be further from the truth,” said Barclay, who praised both Messaros and Dunham as being “brave” for their presentations.
“There are too many people who have left this community because of bullying, being looked upon as not belonging, and everyone is welcome in our community and that includes the LGBTQ community as well."